It’s been seven months since we last saw the unique combination of talent, intensity, speed, and feminine power that Serena Williams brings to a tennis court. At her best, she’s the finest female player the sport has ever seen. Tennis simply is not as interesting or compelling without her.
Last July, Serena won her fourth title at Wimbledon, tennis’s premier event, without dropping a single set. A week later, in Germany, she stepped on a piece of glass while in a restaurant and needed 18 stitches on her right foot. If Serena had to do it over again, surely she wouldn’t have played an exhibition match against Kim Clijsters the next day.
One foot surgery led to another, which has led to lingering questions about when Serena will play again.
“It’s a matter of not coming back too soon and retearing the tendon that’s been operated on,” says Katrina Adams, a Tennis Channel commentator and executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. “Serena injured a tendon that’s used in every step you take.”
Although Serena has expressed a desire to play in the Federation Cup tournament next month, that may be a pipe dream. Serena’s style of play is supremely athletic. She hits big, moves fast, and holds nothing back. If she can’t move in a way that devastates and intimidates opponents, then she’s not the Serena we know.
“The older you get, the slower you heal,” Adams says. “Serena is 29, and she’s been playing tennis at a very [competitive] level for about 15 years.”
Lately, we’ve needed video to see Serena’s potent serve, baseline power, finely crafted winners from almost any angle, all-court coverage, and steely-eyed determination.
Serena stands sixth on the all-time list of female Grand Slam singles winners:
1. Margaret Court – 24
2. Steffi Graf – 22
3. Helen Wills Moody – 19
4. Martina Navratilova – 18
5. Chris Evert – 18
6. Serena Williams – 13
7. Billie Jean King – 12
In case you’re wondering, big sister Venus Williams has seven Grand Slam singles titles. And the Williams sisters have won 12 Grand Slam doubles titles together.
If every woman on the list above brings her A-game onto the court, nobody is beating Serena. But the key question, one that not even she can answer today, is how much longer will it be before we see her A game again?
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
Image: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for PepsiCo
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